Back to Nature (Published on - Feb. 22, 2007)
Ancient lands
Photo by Rick Tremmel
This feisty raccoon, surrounded by ancient shells and fossils, doesn’t realize he’s dining at a mound site of an ancient Tocobago village.
Imagine your backyard without modern landscaping. Picture your neighborhood without buildings, roads or vehicles.

As if you could be suddenly transported back 9,000 to 12,000 years, try to visualize what life was like on the very land you walk and play upon today.

Imagine what it may have looked like to view 14-foot-tall mammoths grazing where our front yards are groomed today. Sabertooth tigers stealthily hunting while sloths the size of elephants grazed upon meadows.

Among the many other animals that are larger ancestors to the mammals we have today, were giant moose and beavers as large as bears. Mastodon, tapir, box turtle, deer, diamondback rattlesnake, opossum, and raccoon lived on what we call home today.

Did you know that Pinellas County was also bountiful in aboriginal activity with more than 1,800 historical and archaeological sites listed in the Florida Site File? Some of these sites are historical structures, but others are where aboriginals hunted and lived. Numerous sites are ancient Indian mounds. Scientific records indicate that pre-historic Indians of Florida inhabited this area as far back as 12,000 years ago.

Florida’s Paleo-Indians (12,000 B.C.) hunted animals with spears and rocks.

Pre-ceramic Archaic Indians (6500 B.C.) living along the west coast of Florida were fishermen and gatherers. They hunted small animals such as rabbits and deer and also gathered roots, berries and leaves.

The Potters – Ceramic Archaic (2000 B.C.) were the people of the Florida Transitional Period, i.e. the Deptford Culture, Manasota Culture, Glades Culture. This was a time of cultural change, variations in lifestyle and a fairly extensive network of trade routes between the peoples that encouraged individualized trades.

Florida Transitional (1000 B.C.) built many inland villages and trade routes. “Pottery tempered with sand and limestone.” (“Indian Mounds, You Can Visit” by I. Mac Perry).

The Fishers (300 A.D.) were the Weedon Island culture. Much has been discovered about these people through the clues they left behind at burial sites and ancient villages. Hunters and plant gatherers, these people also traveled great distances to trade.

Some of the traditions of later Indians can be traced back to this culture such as the Black Drink Ceremony, Pipe Ceremonies, Burial Ceremonies and the development of totemic clans. The Black Drink was a concentrated caffeine drink made from a shrub that can be found in our gardens today, Yaupon, Ilex vomitoura Aiton.

Archaeologists discovered stone and clay pipes and pottery from this period in Florida. Some of the pipes from the Weedon Island culture reveal an artistic handling of stone carved into natural images.

The Mound Builders (1000 A.D.) were the Mississippian Indians. In our area they were called the Safety Harbor people with the tribal name of Tocabaga. These people built mounds for ceremony, temples, and burials, caches of discarded shells and bones and to house the chief.

In 1528, Panfilo de Narvaez was the first non-Indian to explore the United States. From the moment Narvaez raised the Spanish flag at the Jungle Prada site, Florida was changed forever. Acknowledging himself as governor, he then began to brutally harm and kill the Indians, which set precedence for Indian/white relations from that era on.

Today mounds give us a glimpse into the past of how our landscape and nature may have appeared 1,000 years ago and more. Visiting these sites provide wonderful opportunities for parents to teach their children about our past.

There are several areas in Pinellas County where one can visit for a day: Arrowhead Middens, Tierra Verde Burial Mound, Maximo Point Mounds, Canton Street Midden, Pinellas Point Temple Mound, Pinellas Point Midden, Narvaez Mounds at Jungle Prada, Bayshore Homes Midden, John’s Pass Burial Mound, Barrier Island Mounds, Bay Pines Mounds, Weedon Island Mounds, Safety Harbor Mounds, Philippe Park Temple Mound and Middens, Safford Burial Mound, Anclote Temple Mound, Dunedin Temple Mound, Clearwater Shell Midden and Four Mile Bayou Village.

Please remember it’s unlawful to remove anything from these historic archaeological sites. Be respectful when visiting these sites. Take only pictures. Leave only footprints.

For more information visit and

For an in-depth description of mounds and where to find them, purchase a copy of “Indian Mounds, You Can Visit” by I. Mac Perry. Indian Mounds is one of the most comprehensive, informative and well written books on ancient mounds in our area.

In less than 500 years we’ve drastically changed our natural surroundings until we’re ravaged by brushfires, water shortages, sinkholes, air, noise and water pollution and unexplained violence. These people lived in harmony with this same land for more than 10,000 years. Studying our past helps us find answers and connections for our challenging future … back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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